Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crash Test Dummy

Wish I could say I’m feeling better, but I’m not. My neck is really hurting, so I have an appointment today with a head, neck and back specialist. At least this morning, I could lift my head off the pillow without having to hold my head with my hands.

However, now my stomach hurts. I think it’s all the Ibuprofen I’ve been eating the past several days. Nothin’ like stomach cramps to get your mind off a sore neck. I spent most of yesterday in bed whining since no doctor could see me right away.

I’m quite optimistic when it comes to my health. The body, God’s most amazing creation, was designed to heal itself, sometimes with a bit of outside help. My whining is simply a temporary indulgence. I used to criticize the old folks for complaining about all their ailments. I mean, for Pete’s sake, weren’t there better topics for conversation?! But, now that I’m an “old folk”, I have joined the club and I’m takin’ notes!

Today, I think I will begin telling my body how great it feels. You know the saying, “Act As If”. It’s time to invite positive, healing thoughts into my realm, like Wayne Dyer talks about in his book, The Power of Intention.

“Your right big toe feels GREAT! Way to go, body!” My toes are about the only thing on my body right now that doesn’t ache. But, hey, I gotta start somewhere, right?!

Let us not take for granted our health. It is one spectacular gift! Oh, and let me not forget our other wonderful gift here in Texas as we usher in the New Year…weather in the 70s! Jalepeno!!

Y’all Be Safe Out There On The Roads Tonight!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Headache

Last night, on my way to the Austin-Bergstrom Airport in Austin, Texas, I was hit from behind while stopped at a light. The woman who hit me in her SUV was from out-of-town and had taken her eyes off the road. Personally, I wondered if she’d been on her cell phone. She plowed into my car, actually my son’s 2006 Kia Spectra5 hatchback, going at least 50 mph. My car was forced into the car in front of me and that caused a chain reaction with all the cars waiting at the light. There must’ve been 6-8 cars involved. I won’t know for sure until I obtain a copy of the collision report.

Anyway, the experience was quite scary. When I was hit, I felt the force of the blow in my chest, likely the result of the seatbelt doing its job. My brain and my organs were all jostled about. I don’t really recall hitting the car in front of me. Just the realization that I was hurt. I had enough wherewithal to feel for my cell phone and call 9-1-1. The operator asked me questions:

Operator: “What is the nature of your emergency?”
Me: “I’m hurt. Somebody hit me from behind. I’m in my car.”
Operator: “You’ve been in a car accident?”
Me: “Yes”
Operator: “Where are you?”
Me: “In my car.”
Operator: “Where are you located?”
Me: “In my car.”
Operator: “Where did the accident occur?”
Me: “I don’t know. I was on the way to the airport. I’m on 71.” (I looked up and could faintly make out the La Quinta Hotel sign.) “I’m in front of the La Quinta.”
Operator: “Stay on the line with me. Help is on the way.”

I could hear people talking to me, but I couldn’t focus my eyes to see anyone. It was such a scary feeling wondering whether I was severely injured or not. My next thought was about Gene, who I was supposed to pick up from the airport. I left him a message on his cell phone, knowing he would be arriving in the next 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, a couple of people were trying to talk with me through the passenger side of the car. A young man opened the passenger side car door and asked me for my insurance information. Another woman poked her head in the door and asked if I had called 9-1-1. I told her I had. She was also on the phone with them. The young man again asked if I had insurance. I told him I did. My brain wasn’t computing why he was asking me that type of question, instead of asking if I was okay. I said, “Are you the one who hit me?” He replied, “No, I was at the front of the line. I’m just on my way to the airport and need to get your insurance information.” I replied, “I’m hurt.”

Then, a fireman knocked on my window and asked, “Are you hurt?” “Yes”, I said. He pried open my door and began asking me more questions. Officer Nordstrom from the Austin Police Department arrived and took care of the young man who’d been bugging me.

My eyes came into focus and an EMT replaced the fireman by my side. He asked me where I was hurt and began to examine me. I had the need to try and stand up to see if all my parts were in good working order. He explained that, indeed, my internal organs and brain had been seriously jolted, causing my headache. He said I had experienced trauma and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. Initially, I told him yes, I wanted to go to the hospital. But, once I stood up and realized there were no cuts, no blood, no apparent broken bones, just bruises, bumps, a very sore neck and back, I opted not to go to the hospital.

Many years ago when my son was young, I was rear-ended by a driver and was taken to the emergency room at the nearby hospital. I was there for hours and hours, only to be told there was no apparent damage. The thought of repeating that experience, even if there was something wrong, did not appeal to me. The EMT kept an eye on me while the accident was being cleaned up and asked if I’d seen the back of my car yet.

As the EMT directed me towards the back of the car, I gasped at the damage. I nearly cried. One of the firemen told me how lucky I’d been and that my Kia had held up very well. In fact, several of the emergency responders commented that the Kia had held up well under that type of impact.

Then, I walked to the front of the car and saw the hood had buckled under the impact of me hitting the car in front of me. The site was amazing, and I truly felt blessed at that moment.

The police officer informed me that my car would be towed, obviously totaled, and asked how I wanted to get home. I told him I could take a taxi to my friend’s house. Then, I mentioned that I would call my friend at the airport and tell him to also take a taxi. Officer Nordstrom offered to drive me to the airport to locate my friend and suggested we take a taxi together. He felt it would be best for someone to have an eye on me after the ordeal. I agreed and accepted his offer.

Before we left, I saw the grill of my car lying in the street and picked it -- a memento of my gratitude for the life I have and the body to experience it in, a reminder of my holiday headache.

Life is Full of Unexpected Blessings, Y’all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Through the Looking Glass - Part 3

"Through the Looking Glass" by Kenneth Rougeau

With the Durango’s tire fixed, I spent the rest of our second day on the island giving Andrea the Martha’s Vineyard Abbreviated Tour. Our first destination was Chilmark Pottery.

Andrea is a potter with over 20 years of experience and was very curious about the local pottery. We met with the owner, Geoffrey Borr, and spoke to him about the various types of pottery in his shop. Geoffrey and Andrea talked shop, while I roamed the aisles, and Geoffrey gave Andrea a “Potter’s Discount” on the coffee mug she chose.

Our next stop was Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks in West Tisbury. This unassuming gallery for blown glass art is a must-see while on the Vineyard. I love all the colored glass and the display of pumpkins was my favorite this visit.

Robert Phillips, a local glassblowing artist, was creating a piece called “Flames” the day Andrea and I visited. The process of creating glass pieces is amazing.

Andrea and I were fascinated and asked many questions of the artist as he worked.

From there, we drove through Chilmark to Menemsha, a small fishing village on the island. Although it wasn’t raining in Menemsha, the fierce wind had turned cold and the sky was foreboding. We stopped to walk the beach for a bit before being driven back to the car by the cold.

What?! No nude bathing? Imagine that!

We also drove through Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven trying to find souvenir T-shirts for Andrea, but with it being the off-season, most stores were only open on the weekend.

Brenda Dimovich, with whom we were staying, made us a delicious spaghetti and meatballs dinner that night.

After dinner, a few of my dear friends stopped by to say hello and goodbye.

One of the painful aspects of my separation from my husband was not being able to say goodbye to my friends and co-workers. Although I wasn’t able to meet with all the friends I wanted to, I was able to get some closure with these sweet sisters. Being able to get a last hug and express our sisterly love for each other helped all of us cope with what happened last March.

“I relieve and release your hurt that you may be set free.” –Alice in Wonderland

Let Go and Let God, Y’all!

Through the Looking Glass - Part 2

Our second day on Martha’s Vineyard to move my things began with butterflies in my stomach. It wasn’t fear, it was sadness. My husband had told people he was afraid I would harm him. While in the hospital, he had filed for divorce and for a restraining order, which only added insult to injury.

Nine months of psychological therapy helped me understand the problem was not with me. I had been depressed, not homicidal. I didn’t cause my husband to be fearful. Elements from his own past, likely his deceased father’s violent, depressive episodes, contributed to his fear. I had reached a place of acceptance, understanding that my husband was unwilling to seek marriage counseling, unwilling put forth any effort to resolve whatever differences he perceived in our marriage. In fact, I now know that I deserve much better treatment from a husband, more empathy, caring and love, than my husband could provide. His actions were not just unloving, they were mean-spirited.

When I awoke, Andrea told me I’d been arguing with my husband in my sleep. I had cried out, saying my attorney would handle things. We dressed for cold weather, but as we walked outside, the air was warm and balmy. It was 60 degrees and overcast. Two days before, it had been 19 degrees. The forecast anticipated rain, but as we headed to the West Tisbury Police Department, where I met the officer who would be “protecting” my husband’s property from Scary Ol’ Me, the sky offered no direct threats. The weather was Miracle #1.

Officer Garrison Viera was dressed in plain clothes and drove his pick-up truck to the farm, following me in the moving van. As I drew closer to the Old Mayhew Farm, Andrea said, “I know you’re feeling anxious, and it’s going to be alright. It really is. All this will be over in a few days.” I needed to hear what she had to say, being so close to tears and not wanting to “lose it”.

Pulling into the long drive up to the small farmhouse around 8:30AM, I saw three men waiting – two Brazilians and one high school student. My husband had hired them to assist with the move, obviously wanting me out as soon as possible. He also knew that the men from church I had asked to assist were unable to help me during a weekday and that the police could only come out between the hours of 8AM – 5PM.

I knew one of the Brazilians, Arte Narty, and had briefly met James, the high school student. Opening the barn door, I saw all my furniture filling the space. Apparently, my husband had packed most of my belongings and had moved the boxes and furniture out of the house, into the attached barn area. My things had been there quite some time, as the furniture was dirty and in some cases, moldy, from the excessive heat and humidity during the summer.

Arte Narty kept asking me what they should move first, but I simply couldn’t deal with the aspect of managing the truck loading. That’s when Andrea took over. I climbed into barn loft to identify and hand down boxes, while Andrea directed labor efforts. Unbeknownst to me, Andrea eventually ordered Officer Viera into the truck, not knowing he was a cop.

Andrea barked, “Get up in there and arrange that furniture so it fits in the truck.” Officer Viera replied, “I don’t want to.” She retorted, “I don’t care what you want. You get up there in that truck. You are the king! King of the moving van!” So, he did. And, Officer Viera did an outstanding job of packing the truck.

A little while into the move, my friend from the island, Melanie Bilodeau, came by to help me pack. She took the half-empty boxes and consolidated them. She also helped me make decisions about items that were better left behind or thrown away.

At 10:45AM, the loading was complete. I was totally amazed and shocked. What I had thought would take a couple of days, took a little over two hours. This was Miracle #2.

Officer Viera turned his back to us to climb down from the truck, securing the truck door, and Andrea saw his handcuffs, clipped to the back of his pants. She suddenly realized he was the police officer, not a hired hand. She apologized profusely for ordering him around, thanking him for his help and praising his efforts, pleading her ignorance at his intended purpose.

I looked into the officer’s eyes and smiled, thanking him for his work and told him that the miracle of getting the truck loaded was directly due to his willingness to help us. In a most gracious manner, Officer Viera beamed a bright smile back at me and told me that he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing while there was work to be done. He enjoyed helping, but he asked me not to let anyone at the station know, to which I agreed. Officer Viera was Miracle #3.

I had been told the day before traveling to the island that my husband did not want to allow me access to the house. His reasoning was that all my belongings were in the barn. Through my attorney, I insisted that I be allowed to walk through the farmhouse to ensure all my belongings had been packed. I asked Officer Viera to accompany through the house, which he readily agreed to do. I saw jigsaw puzzles and a Scrabble game that my husband’s mother had given me for my birthday and Christmas, which had not been packed. I smiled and left them alone.

I walked over to the bookshelf, reached up on the top shelf and got down one book, The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, which had been given to me in 1995 by a dear friend. As I showed it to Officer Viera, he apologetically told me he would have to take a picture of it and would have to call the station before releasing it to me. I told him that was fine, that there was an inscription in the front to me. He agreed the book was mine and called the station. Meanwhile, I continued through the house.

Looking around, I could see why my husband did not want me there. The house looked so pitiful, dirty and dismal. The second-hand furniture he had acquired was so bleak in comparison to the warm, rich leather and fabrics of my furniture. There were no paintings or pictures on the walls. There was no order to his things. It was chaos and emptiness at the same time. It was sad. And, I imagined that this farmhouse reflected the inner feelings of my husband.

Rather than search through the CDs and DVDs, I walked away from the house after briefly perusing the surroundings. If he had kept anything else of mine, he could keep it. I realized at that moment that I had been the reason that farmhouse was a home. I was the reason there was warmth and love reflected in that house. And, with me gone, that house was no longer a home.

My 2000 Dodge Durango, which had been parked beside the barn for nine months, had a flat tire, a broken hatchback latch, broken gas cap and was filthy inside and stunk like my husband’s truck. Undoubtedly, he had used my SUV to haul feed and other things. A friend on the island had alerted me earlier in the year that my husband had been seen driving my car. At least the car started right up and had a half-tank of gas.

Andrea followed me over to Island Tire & Auto. When I asked them to fix the tire and change the oil, I was told it would be the next day before they could get to an oil change. I told them to forget the oil change and asked if we could wait to get the tires looked at. The man at the shop said, “Sure! Pull your car around to the bay and I’ll look at it right now.” This, to me, was Miracle #4.

The feeling of relief as I drove the moving van away from the farm was indescribable. Elation, weightlessness and joy don’t even accurately describe the wondrous feelings of severing the physical ties to my husband. And, then it began to rain…Miracle #5.

Caterpillar: Who... are... you?
Alice: Why, I hardly know, sir. I've changed so much since this morning, you see...
Caterpillar: No, I do not C, explain yourself.
Alice: I'm afraid I can't explain myself, you see, because I'm not myself, you know.
Caterpillar: I do not know.
Alice: I can't put it any more clearly, sir, because it isn't clear to me.

Bird in the Tree: A serpent! Help! Help! Serpent! Serpeeent!
Alice: But please! Please!
Bird in the Tree: Off with you! Shoo! Shoo! Help! Serpent!
Alice: I'm not a serpent.
Bird in the Tree: You're not? Then just what are you?
Alice: I'm just a little girl.

Don’t Give Up Before the Miracles Happen, Y’all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Through the Looking Glass - Part 1

My friend, Andrea, and I just completed a 2,000-mile jaunt from Martha’s Vineyard to the Ranch, retrieving my belongings from the island. Going to the island at this time of year was not my idea. I’d received a veiled ultimatum through my husband’s attorney, and my parents graciously and generously paid for my trip and expenses, with the hope that they will be able to recoup those costs in divorce court.

My anxiety was high as I prepared for the trip, and I approached my friend, Andrea, to see if she could take time off from her job as a home care nurse to drive my car back to Texas. I expected her to say she could not go. After all, it’s a lot to ask someone to use vacation time from work to drive 2,000 miles. But, she was thrilled to go and didn’t even take time to think about her answer!

I wish I could have had her enthusiasm. But, I had already made this journey once, when I married and hauled all my stuff up to Martha’s Vineyard. (I drove the 26-foot truck that time, too, while my new husband drove my car.) I also hadn’t been back to Martha’s Vineyard in 9 months, and since leaving the island hadn’t been my idea, I was apprehensive about returning.

Many people were praying for us as we embarked on our journey, and those prayers were certainly answered. Our 5:45AM flight to Boston Logan Airport, with a connection through Houston, was quite uneventful.

From Boston, we caught the Peter Pan Bus down to Bourne, Massachusetts, which was a 1 ½-hour ride. We sat in the first row and chatted with the bus driver, John, the entire time. And boy, John sure did like to talk.

We learned that John had been driving commercial vehicles for the past 30 years and that he was “still learning”. I wasn’t sure whether to take comfort from this revelation or not. He was originally from Portugal, which he made us guess. Thankfully, I had ridden with John once or twice before and seemed to recall where he was from. He told us about how he met his wife in the United States, had gone to school here, and how much he loved this country.

John also gave us tips for long-distance driving: 1) take frequent breaks, 2) keep peeled oranges in the car for refreshment, 3) wear loose-fitting shoes or no shoes while driving, and 4) take along a cooler with a washcloth. When tired, wet the washcloth in the cold ice water from the cooler and touch it to your forehead and the inside of both wrists. John was quite a character and kept us thoroughly entertained.

I had previously arranged for a taxi to meet us at the bus stop in Bourne. With long, dark straggly hair, topped with a ski ha, an oversized nose and pasty white wrinkled skin, our cab driver looked like a very old hippie from a Cheech and Chong movie. He drove us over to Colony Moving and Storage in Pocasset, MA (pronounced “Po-CA-sset”, not “PO-ca-sset”, which is how I said it) where we rented the 26-foot Penske Truck.

I encountered a glitch as I tried to pay for the rental truck with my debit card. Apparently, the cost for the rental far exceeded the daily limit on my card. So, I contacted my bank, and they were able to adjust my limit within 15 minutes. Glitch squashed!

Climbing behind the wheel of the monstrous vehicle, I felt the power that comes with sitting up so much higher than the rest of the traffic and listening to the roaring engine crank up. Andrea hopped in and I proceeded to run over a curb making my first turn. My ego quickly became right-sized. Although a twinge of fear about driving the large truck onto the ferry hung in the far reaches of my brain, I tried to remain focused on the road right in front of me. That type of thinking served me well throughout the our journey. After a brief side trip into Wal-Mart to buy Andrea a winter hat, we continued on toward the ferry in Woodshole, MA, and my fears were unfounded as the Steamship Authority workers guided me onto the ferry.

Returning to the island was not easy for me, but I was much stronger emotionally than when I left the island. However, some things never change. As I stepped off the ferry, I could feel my perfectly straightened hair begin to kink just like it always did when I lived on the island. It was quite cool and humid outside.

I followed the directions to Lou and Brenda Dimovich’s home where Andrea and I were invited to stay. Brenda met us at the parking area where we planned to park the moving van overnight. I stepped down from the truck and gave Brenda a big hug. It was an emotional moment for me. I hadn’t seen Brenda in over nine months. When I returned to Texas, Brenda had been visiting her new grandbaby. Her big bear hug was balm to my soul and I began to realize how important it was for me to gain closure with my friends from Martha’s Vineyard.

To be continued…

”Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.”—The Duchess, Alice in Wonderland

“Oh, pooh. I'm not afraid of you. Why, you're nothing but a pack of cards.”—Alice, Alice in Wonderland

Keep on Truckin’, Y’all!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

'Tis the Season

Oh, ‘tis the season to be jolly! At long last, the Christmas spirit has overcome me. I no longer feel resentful when I hear the Christmas jingles piped into my shopping experience. Not only do I catch myself singing along or whistling, but I’ve also been doing the Holiday Shuffle. This may consist of waltzing down the aisle at Target…1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3…or a bit of soft shoe,tapping tennis shoes while pushing my cart in the grocery store. Bring it on! I’m ready for the holiday cheer.

Perhaps the change in my mood has something to do with that first downed bottle of eggnog this season. Oh, that creamy, dreamy nectar of the gods, which blesses our grocery stores once a year...I cannot resist it…it calls my name. I must buy my very own bottle or carton at the beginning of each Christmas holiday. When my son was still living at home, we each had our own personal eggnog cartons - his was leaded, mine was unleaded. Surprisingly, his always seemed to last longer. Mine rarely lasted a full day. This year was no different. That first bottle of the season was gulped down with a gusto I can only compare to the first beer of the summer (back in my drinking days).

Perhaps it’s the onslaught of Christmas movies bombarding the TV screen that has me in the mood. My sister, Cameron, sent me a text-message the other day, reminding me that my favorite Christmas movie classic, “White Christmas”, was airing on television that night. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, whose waistline measured a mere 21 inches, headlined in the film. The music takes me back to warm memories of singing and dancing to the song, “Sisters”, with my sister.

Or, maybe it’s our delightful trip to Wimberley Market Days today that has me whistling “Jingle Bell Rock”. The Hill Country’s oldest and largest outdoor market sported over 470 vendor booths displaying everything under the sun, including antiques, jewelry, art, toys and more. Everywhere we turned there was turquoise, turquoise and more turquoise. It is the Year of the Turquoise!

It was a perfect, sunny, 60-degree day, and we were greeted everywhere to good ol’ friendly Texas hospitality. All the parking lots and food concessions were sponsored by the Wimberley Lions Club, with 100% of all proceeds going to charity and scholarships. We made our own donation with two orders of scrumptious fried catfish and crinkle-cut French fries before heading back to Austin.

And, for those of you searching for that perfect stocking stuffer, I recommend the Oxo Good Grips Soap Dispensing Palm Brush for $5.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. No kitchen should be without one.

“Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.” –Dave Barry

“Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'.” –Bing Crosby

Share Your Blessings, Y’all!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Turquoise and The Hair

On November 30th, I turned 49 years old. I always know how old I am because I turned thirty just two days after my son was born. So, this year my son turned nineteen. I’m still not certain how that happened. I mean, it seems like just a few years ago we were playing Thumb War in the car, talking like Mexican Chihuahuas. (You would’ve had to been there.) Now we talk about what he’s learning in his anthropology class and his view of the world…when I see him.

My Aunt Mary Lou, my mother’s youngest sister, was also born on November 30th, so we celebrate the three birthdays – mine, hers and my son’s – at Thanksgiving. This year was no different. Ironically, Mary Lou and I gave each other the same gift – a turquoise necklace and earrings. She’d forgotten to take the tag off, and as she tried to grab it out of my hands, I chuckled and told her I’d spent the same amount of money, too. We just laughed and laughed. (Again, you would’ve had to been there. It really was funny.) And, it must be the year of the Turquoise, because another dear friend gave me a fabulous turquoise necklace and earrings for my birthday.

There’s more gray in my hair this year, more than I can pluck out. And, so for the first time, I am thinking of coloring my hair. I may throw care and conservativism to the wind and go RED. Then again, I may just come back with some highlights. We’ll see how bold I feel at the hair stylist’s tomorrow afternoon.

I commented to Mary Lou that I couldn’t believe I’ll be 50 years old next year, that I feel more like thirty in my head. She agreed, saying she couldn’t believe she is 60-something. Mary Lou is quite young-looking and full of energy. I told her that in my mind, I am thirty and she is forty. She agreed and said that according to Oprah (and if Oprah said it, it must be true), 50 is the new 30. We concurred that 60 must then be the new 40. I like it, and I don’t care who said it!

I guess at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how old I am chronologically. I like who I am today. I really am grateful for the knowledge that comes with life lessons, but just wish I would’ve read the crib notes instead of stumbling firsthand down that windy, bumpy path I have trodden for nearly half a century. But, what a ride!

On my actual birthday, Gene drove me down to San Antonio to the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures Museum and for a stroll in the market place downtown. We had a wonderful Mexican food lunch at La Marguerita Restaurant and Oyster Bar.

Then, we headed over to Gruene, Texas (pronounced “Green”) for some antique and specialty store shopping.

I think 49 is going to be a very good age for me! A very good age indeed!

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." --Abraham Lincoln

Enjoy the Journey, Y’all!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tank You Very Much

Yesterday morning, sitting on the front porch, having a cup of hot Stash Mango Passionfruit Herbal Tea, I gazed upon the pristine morning landscape laid out before me and the snappy sunshine bearing down in its sparkling happiness. But the faraway sounds did not go with the view. The ground began to rumble and the window panes started rattling. Having been in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, I momentarily thought we might be experiencing one here in Texas, but the thought faded quickly as the low rumbling sounds continued. I knew they were coming from Fort Hood.

It’s like watching one of those Japanese B-Movies, dubbed in English. You hear the actor speak his line and then a moment later, you see the actor’s lips move in a totally weird way. That’s what it’s like when I look outside at the beautiful countryside and hear the intrusive, distant bombing. It just doesn't match up.

For the past couple of days, the earth’s been shaking at the Double M Ranch. Off in the distance, I hear the rumble of big guns going off. We live near Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored post in the world, and when they begin their practice maneuvers, we know about it.

Clearing a stairwell, Soldiers with the 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, conduct urban operations training at the Elijah MOUT site on Fort Hood, Texas May 1. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ben Fox, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs)

The sound reminds me of the many American men and women who are overseas, fighting a war that doesn’t make much sense to most of us. I am grateful for their bravery and commitment to freedom and duty. I pray for them. I pray for the decision makers, who keep us entangled in policing the world’s criminals.

Operation Rock Wrench clears industrial section of Baqouba - A Soldier from the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provides rear security as a weapons cache consisting of grenades and hand-held radios, discovered by soldiers of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, burns. Iraqi forces focused on clearing structures while U.S. forces provided security for the mission in the industrial section of southern Baqouba. (U.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. Richard Ybarra, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

The United States is a superpower, a blessed country that comes to the aid of those being downtrodden by the unjust actions of power-hungry egomaniacs. Yet, there is much to do in our own country, many downtrodden here to help, too.

I pray that our new President (I can’t even bear to say his name yet) will make good choices for our country, with the help of the Congress, over the next four years, that all the countries in the world will stand up for right and work together toward peace.

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace.“ -- Kofi Annan

Pray for Peace, Y’all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ahead of Our Time

The other day, I was shopping in Sports Authority, when I noticed I was humming along to a Christmas song. I immediately stopped. Christmas?! For Pete’s sake, we were over two weeks away from Thanksgiving, much less Christmas! Annoyed, I located a salesperson and said, “You are playing Christmas music?” The young man replied apologetically, “Yes, I’m afraid we are.” “That’s just wrong!” I exclaimed. He said, “I know it, and I have to listen to it all day long.” Poor fella.

On the drive back from West Texas, I noticed that many towns were already displaying their Christmas decorations and several houses were donning their Christmas lights. Now as far back as I can remember, you just didn’t put up Christmas decorations and lights until after Thanksgiving. Something just isn’t right here.

I think there’s a conspiracy going on. After the financial meltdown in September, Best Buy Co. said that "seismic" changes in consumer behavior have created "the most difficult climate" it has ever seen. JC Penney reported weak third quarter earnings and has lowered its fourth quarter earnings estimate. Starbucks profits are less than half of what they earned in 2007. The coffee giant has been hit hard by the worst economic downturn in nearly a generation as consumers cling to their dollars even more tightly than analysts had expected. And, who can blame them?

I love Starbucks hot chocolate, and they recently came out with their Signature Hot Chocolate, which is a distinctly rich, European-style hot chocolate made with Starbucks’ blend of four different cocoas. But, at $4.00 a pop, including tax, for a large cup of hot chocolate, I could go broke. Heck, I am broke! So, I, like many other consumers, have had to cut back on this fancy luxury.

What does all this mean? It means we are beginning to hear Christmas music in all the department stores much earlier than before. Even my bank has decorated the lobby with its Christmas tree and ornaments. The lobby smells like pumpkin spice and Christmas carols are piped in through the sound system. Retailers are conspiring to influence consumers to part with our hard-earned dollars by getting us in the holiday shopping mood earlier this year.

Shame on them! I know times are tough, but Thanksgiving is a very important holiday and should not be upstaged by Christmas. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – a time to reflect on the blessings I have received throughout the year and a time when my entire, extended family gathers together at the Ranch. My parents, son, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brother, nieces, nephews and more all join together for a delicious meal and fellowship.

The food at Thanksgiving on the Double M Ranch is not to be missed! Mom always makes the turkey and her infamous dressing, topped with a big ladle of giblet gravy. Aunt Mary Lou brings ham and rolls. Cousin Laketha always cooks her delicious sweet potatoes, and I like to make a couple of pies. Since the Thanksgiving meal is usually not eaten until mid-afternoon, my sister, Cameron, always provides a salmon loaf as an appetizer. There are mashed potatoes, cream peas, jello salad (my favorite) and a green salad. Sometimes, someone will bring asparagus, tamales, chocolate sheet cake or apricot half-moon pies. Thanksgiving at the Ranch is truly a feast of plenty. Nobody leaves hungry.

After the meal, the menfolk usually watch the Dallas Cowboys’ football game, while the children play softball outside. Meanwhile, the women take turns cleaning the kitchen, cackling and telling funny stories. By late afternoon, the relatives begin to disperse. At last, it’s naptime on the Double M Ranch.

I hope you and your family will relish in the blessings of this Thanksgiving and focus on the family. Don’t let the cheap, glitzy Christmas gimmicks influence you at the store this year. Take a stand, and keep your Christmas dollars in your pocket until after Thanksgiving!

Be Thankful, Y’all!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Chuck Wagon

Last Saturday morning while in Fort Davis, Texas, my friends and I stopped in at The Chuck Wagon restaurant for breakfast. A relatively new restaurant, The Chuck Wagon had reasonable prices, great food and friendly, attentive service. I ordered the breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, potatoes, onion and tomatoes. It was scrumptious. In addition to his breakfast order, Bobby asked for a side of sausage gravy, which he generously allowed me to sample. It was homemade cream gravy just like my momma makes!

On the paper place mats was printed the history of the chuck wagon, which I found quite interesting. Charles Goodnight, one of the most prosperous cattlemen of the American West, is credited as the inventor of the chuck wagon. He and his partner, Oliver Loving, prepared to take a herd of 2,000 Longhorn cattle from Belknap in northern Texas to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, which became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and on to Denver, Colorado in 1866. Goodnight purchased a government wagon and reconfigured it to meet the supply needs of the journey, having it rebuilt in bois d’arc, the toughest wood available.

The bois d'arc tree is also known as Osage orange, bodark, horse apple, hedge ball, Osage apple, mock orange, yellow wood, palo de arco, by its Indian name ayac and by its scientific name Maclura pomifera. What makes the bois d' arc different from most other trees is the quality of the wood, which is noted for its hardness, flexibility, durability, and resistance to contact with moisture and soil. Hunt County, Texas historian, Walworth Harrison, described the wood as "ever lasting," because of its immunity to rot.

My friend, Bobby, who also went along on our trip, says that if you put horse apples all around your house, you won't have any spiders. That's good news for a woman like me who suffers from mild arachnophobia!

The purpose of the chuck wagon was a logical one. A large cattle drive required men, and men required food. This redesigned, sturdy wagon fit the bill as a mobile kitchen. The distinguishing feature of the wagon was the sloping box on the rear with a hinged lid that lowered to become a cook's worktable. The box was fitted to the width of the wagon and contained shelves and drawers for holding food and utensils. To the cowboys, "chuck" was food, so the box was called a chuck box and the wagon became known as a “chuck wagon”.

This brings me to another thought, unrelated to chuck wagons. If food was known as “chuck”, then it finally makes sense to me why I’ve heard people use the word “upchuck” in place of “vomit”. I learn something new every day!

Cowboys ate all their meals around the chuck wagon, but the wagon also served as the social center, cattle drive headquarters and recreational spot. Many tall tales and musical numbers evolved around the chuck wagon campfire.

In many ways the cook or "cookie" was the most important member of the drive, and he generally got paid better than the other men. The cook drove the chuck wagon ahead of the herd and was responsible for selecting campsites in the evenings and stopovers for the noonday meal. Meals generally consisted of beef, beans, and sourdough biscuits along with generous cups of strong black coffee. The cook used a large "dutch oven," a cast iron pot for cooking biscuits and the occasional cobbler. The difference between an ordinary cook and a good cook often meant the difference between happy cowboys and grumbling cowboys, although the smart cowboy would avoid complaining within earshot of the cook for fear of being pressed into service. Cookie ruled his kitchen and not so much as a cup of coffee was consumed without his permission.

Wagons Ho, Y’all!

West Texas Wonderment

I just returned from a fun-filled weekend getaway to West Texas with my three friends, Andrea, Gene and Bobby. We stayed at the McIvor Ranch in Fort Davis, which far exceeded my expectations. Run by Scott and Julie McIvor, the McIvor Ranch is a working ranch with cattle, goats, horses, chickens and more. Gram’s House is a wonderful 3-bedroom, 2-bath house that belonged to Scott’s grandmother. The décor is very warm, with wood flooring, dark wood doors, a fireplace and a retro kitchen with black-and-white tile and an old Formica-topped dinette.

Andrea and I shared a room toward the back of the house, which had its own bathroom, decorated with light yellow tile, and a sea foam green tub and sink. But, the feature that really captured my attention was the toilet seat and cover. It was clear plastic with a variety of barbed wire samples inside of it – oddest thing I’ve ever seen. It was definitely worthy of a picture!

We met Scott McIvor, a real cowboy, when we arrived around 4:00 PM. The first thing I noticed about Scott was his mustache. Well-groomed, it grew very long, past his bottom lip, concealing his mouth. As I was pondering whether he has to part his mustache down the middle to eat and how his wife kisses him, I heard a familiar clink-clink-clink. Where had I heard that sound before? I looked down at Scott’s boots and saw the spurs. And, while we were gone, Scott brought us one and a half dozen fresh eggs. Delicious!

The four of us unloaded the Suburban and changed into our cold-weather gear. I was so glad I had packed my Sherpa hat, wool scarf and gloves, because as we ascended into the Davis Mountains, it got colder and colder. Our destination was the McDonald Observatory, owned by the University of Texas at Austin. We attended the Twilight Program and the Star Party.

The Twilight Program began with an introduction and overview from a senior staff member, who took questions. I asked, “What happened to Pluto?”, referring to astronomists no longer considering Pluto to be a “planet", which was followed by laughs from the crowd. The speaker smiled and explained that after further research, objects in the sky larger than Pluto, which also orbit the sun, had been discovered, yet were not considered planets. Hence, Pluto had been re-categorized as a “dwarf planet” or a “plutoid”. He further commented that the public seems to be mourning the loss of Pluto as a planet and some have even been adamantly incensed, citing a class of 5th graders who sent him hate mail after hearing about the re-categorization of Pluto. Reminding us that in the 1930s, astronomists determined that Sirius, previously thought to be a planet, was actually a star, the speaker said we’d get over the Pluto situation. Easy for him to say!

The Star Party was conducted by Shannon Rudine, Public Affairs Specialist, who happened to be an old college friend of Andrea’s during her days at Sul Ross University. Unfortunately, we had a full moon and a cold front had blown in a flurry of clouds. But, the night sky cleared long enough for Shannon to point out several constellations, such as the Southern Cross and Cassiopeia (or Cornucopia, as I preferred to call it), Venus and Saturn. It was so interesting and later, we were able to look through different telescopes to see a double star cluster, the moon, Jupiter and its orbiting moons.

On Day 2 of our adventure, the four of us returned to the McDonald Observatory to tour the Frank N. Bash Visitor’s Center and view the two gigantic telescopes - the 107-inch Harlan Smith Telescope and the 360-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

After the tour, we headed to the Woodward Ranch, just south of Alpine, for an afternoon of rock hounding. The Woodward Ranch is the home source of Red Plum Agate, which is a beautiful stone. They have over 60 different kinds of agate and gemstones occurring naturally. We were given the “Geology 101” course and were led through the rock shop, shown samples of the raw material and what it looks like once its polished.

We spent a few hours filling our buckets with what we hoped were precious treasures. Having been to Woodward Ranch before, Gene (pictured above) helped the rest of us distinguish between the treasure rocks and the regular rocks. Tray Woodward, the owner of Woodward Ranch, sorted through our findings and set aside the rocks that had no value. The valuable pieces were placed back in our buckets and weighed. Four pounds of rocks cost $8.00. Lucky for us, Bobby has a rock tumbler and the tools to cut the rocks, so we are excited to see what our treasures really turn out to be!

On the last day of our trip, we stopped at Fredericksburg on our way back home. Andrea and I had never been there before. Arriving mid-afternoon, we meandered through the quaint shops downtown before they closed and then stopped at a local restaurant for refreshments and a snack.

There was so much more to do in West Texas in the Davis Mountains and not enough time to do it all. It is certainly worth a repeat visit, but next time we’ll stay longer!

Wish Upon A Star, Y’all!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Best Chicken-Fried Steak

Over the years, I’ve been on my own personal quest for the best chicken-fried steak. To those of you who haven’t indulged in this culinary delight, all I can say is you haven’t lived! Every Texan knows is there is no chicken in chicken-fried steak. “Chicken-fried” is a term used to describe the cooking process. An inexpensive cut of round steak is tenderized, dipped in an egg and milk mixture, dredged through seasoned flour and then fried in drippings just like fried chicken.

It is estimated that 800,000 orders of Chicken-Fried Steak are served in Texas every day. According to the Lone Star Book of Records, the Chicken-Fried Steak was invented in 1911 by Jimmy Don Perkins, a cook in a small café in Lamesa, Texas, who misunderstood a customer’s order and battered a thin steak and deep-fried it in hot oil. Unfortunately, this oft-reported food fact is a complete fable. The precise origins of the dish are unclear, but many sources attribute it to German and Austrian immigrants to Texas in the nineteenth century who brought recipes from Europe to the United States, such as Weiner Schnitzel. Bandera, Texas also claims to be the birthplace of the chicken-fried steak.

Regardless of its origin, Chicken-Fried Steak is a Texas staple. You can always expect to find it served with a mound of mashed potatoes, green beans and white cream gravy drizzled all over the steak and potatoes. I salivate just thinking about it. But, as with any popular dish, some places make better Chicken-Fried Steak than others.

This week, I came across a chicken-fried steak to rival all others at the Mesa Ranch Bar & Grill in South Austin at Interstate 35 and Oltorf Drive, just south of downtown. Mesa Ranch serves either chicken-fried steak or chicken-fried venison with poblano mashers (mashed potatoes), which had a mild kick, homestyle cream gravy and the vegetable of the day. The chicken-fried steak was seasoned so well and was so tender, and with the poblano mashed potatoes, it was one heavenly bite after another.

The atmosphere is upscale Texan, with faux alligator skin table cloths, heavy silverware garnished with various ranch brands, super friendly servers, Texas art, and as one person described it, “…enough southwestern kitsch décor to choke a stud bull”. They are known for their steaks and fried cactus, and the key lime pie ought to be labeled a cheesecake. It is simply divine!

Even the Ladies Room had a few sayings tacked up on the wall that made me feel like I was definitely in a Texas establishment:

“Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”

“When Life Hands You Lemons, Bust Out the Tequila and Salt”

Bon Appetít, Y’all!

Animal Magnetism

From the animated movie “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” comes a host of misplaced animal misfits. All of the loveable characters from the first movie are back – Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo, King Julien, Maurice and the penguins. They find themselves in the wildest place of all – the vast plains of Africa – where this zoo-raised crew encounters species of their own kind for the very first time.

I could definitely relate to Gloria the hippo. One of her lines is, “Get cher groove on! Get cher groove on!” I certainly do feel like I’ve got my groove back. When I expressed that sentiment to my psychologist earlier this week, she produced a large, stuffed snowman and placed it on the table. When she pressed the button, the disco song, “Shake Your Groove Thing” began to play as the snowman danced. My psychologist explained that “getting my groove back” was worth taking a moment to celebrate. What a hoot!

I had more in common with Gloria the hippo. She was oblivious to the admiration and adoration of her dear friend, Melman the giraffe. In fact, they had been friends so long that she really couldn’t see him as anything other than her dear old friend. We find out during a near-death experience that Melman is in love with Gloria. However, she is snoring and sleeping soundly through his entire confession.

I have a friend like Melman, who I’ve known for seven years. Because we had been friends for such a long time, I couldn’t really see him in a romantic light. He watched me make all my poor choices in husbands and suitors, and he loved me anyway. We have a special connection, about which a whole book could be written, so I won’t go into the detail, except to say that he’s always been there when I needed him. Through our friendship, my Heavenly Father has shown me that He loves me as his eternal daughter and cares about me. Just like Melman, my dear friend has shown me what real friendship and true love really is. And, just like Gloria, I finally opened my eyes. What a gift it is to feel cherished!

Go see the movie, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”. It’s really wonderful!

And, speaking of animal magnetism, my 18-year old son, Eric, got a haircut yesterday! Oh, his mama is doin’ the Happy Dance! Now that his handsome face has the right frame around it, instead of all the overgrown vegetation, those college girls are going to be battin’ their long eyelashes at him. Aw heck, it doesn’t matter what his hair looks like, the girls already gravitate towards him. What a handsome hunk of posterity that young man is!

On another, animal-related note, driving to my brother’s house in Austin late Tuesday night, I saw a deer in the road. Now, out in the country on the Double M Ranch, this is a common occurrence, but I was in a heavily-populated urban neighborhood. The small doe was running down the middle of the street toward my car, and then she turned to run up another street, as if trying to find her way out of a confusing maze. She looked so terribly out of place. I half expected to see Santa Claus and his reindeer chasing behind her. It was such an odd sight.

I, too, must have animal magnetism. While in Austin this week, I pulled up at the home of a friend. I walked up onto the porch and knocked at the door. I heard leaves rustling and a noise behind me. I whipped around in alarm and there, standing behind me, was a blonde Labrador retriever, wagging his tail. “You scared me!” I exclaimed to him. Although I’d never seen this dog before, he almost seemed to know me. I reached down to pet him and looked at his collar for a tag to see where he lived, but there was no tag.

As I walked back to my car, which was parallel parked on the street, the lab followed me. As I was looking for traffic, opening the driver’s side door, the dog jumped right in. “Oh no,” I said. “You can’t go with me. I’m sure you have a very nice home somewhere. Now, c’mon and get out.” I kissed the air and clapped my hands, but the lab just sat there in the passenger’s seat, looking quite ready for a road trip. “C’mon boy!” I repeated and whistled. Nothing. I walked around to the passenger side door and tried to pull the dog out. He wouldn’t budge.

I had been listening to the audio book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and was totally enthralled, nearing the end of the story. Rather than try to coax my new passenger out of the car, I decided to wait until my friend returned home and continued listening to the CD. As I turned the car on, the Labrador retriever tried to come sit in my lap. I pushed him off and then he stuck his nose up to the air conditioning vents. I had not fastened my seatbelt, since I wasn’t going anywhere, so in a few minutes, the seat belt alert, which is a series of five ring tones, began to go off. The dog’s ears raised high off his head, and he cocked his head to the side, listening to the warning chimes.

About five minutes later, my friend arrived home, and after another ten minutes or so, was able to persuade the stubborn blonde lab to vacate my car by bribing him with doggie treats, noting that the dog lived a few houses down.

“I got to move it, move it. I got to move it, move it. I got to move it, move it. Ya got to (MOVE IT)!” – “I Like To Move It”, title song from the movie, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”. To see the trailer, click here and then click on the Video button at the bottom of the screen. Select Trailer 1 and enjoy!

Move It, Y’all!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Batter Up!

Yesterday, I watched the Austin Senior Softball League games at the Krieg Field Complex. They are quite entertaining. It’s like watching Little League games. You never know what’s going to happen. The men are at least 55 years old, with many players in their 60s and 70s.

During one of yesterday’s games, an unlikely batter hit the ball over the heads of the outfielders all the way to the fence, yet only made it to first base. He was a-huffin’ and a-puffin’. The same batter hit a grounder to the shortstop during another at-bat with runners on first and second base. The batter ran to first base out of breath and began to walk off the bag when the first base coach told him to get back on the base. He said, “But isn’t somebody out?” Nope. The shortstop had fumbled the ball and never even made a throw.

It’s obvious that these guys play for the fun of the game. Many say they are experiencing their second childhood, although a few have told me they can’t remember theirs. The players from the four different teams are all friendly toward each other, joke around with each other and cheer each other on. Some of the men are not in shape or have physical limitations preventing them from running, so they have pinch runners. Still others hit the ball over the fence.

I believe I may’ve found the fountain of youth after all - the youth of boyhood silliness and camaraderie anyway. It’s alive and well in Austin, Texas.

Play Ball, Y’all!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Time For Change

Anyone who knows me understands why I am low energy and just slow pokin’ around today. The result of the presidential election simply wasn’t to my liking. Well, at least I voted my conscience. A friend of mine asked me not to discuss the results with him for a week to let the information settle and to observe a proper mourning time for Democracy. I’ll just keep reminding myself that God’s in charge of the Big Picture and I’ll have an extra helping of chocolate cake. That oughta help.

Oftentimes with change comes uneasiness, depression, feelings of loss, loss of control, unpredictability and fear of the unknown. But, change can also be a catalyst of good, causing us to re-evaluate our priorities, test the limits of our faith in God, acknowledge our weaknesses, take steps to improve ourselves and our environment, seek knowledge and help others.

I’ve been told the only thing that changes about us is everything. Change is constant. Pining away for the “good ole days” isn’t going to bring them back. Each of us must learn to adapt and adjust to change, to endure well. That is our challenge as beings in these unstable times. Why, only a few years ago, my mother had no idea how to turn on a computer. Now, she takes her laptop on trips. All of us can learn and grow and change, if we want to.

We are beginning to see the leaves change here in Central Texas. The county road leading up to the Double M Ranch is now tree-lined with leaves of yellow, orange and dots of red. The live oaks, which are prominent here on the Ranch, stay green, but driving out to town and back provides proof that Fall is here (even if the temperatures don’t).

In an effort to improve processes, I have decided to make a change in blog sites. The Yahoo360 site is fraught with bugs and slowness, so I’ve decided to switch over to Google's I hope this is an improvement, both for you to access my little vignettes and for me to post them. As always, I welcome your feedback!

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And, wisdom to know the difference
Thy will, not mine, be done.

Remember Who’s Large & In Charge, Y’all!
(And, it ain’t me & you!!)